Smoking doesn’t make you an evil person. It’s not good for you, but there isn’t a smoker on this planet who doesn’t know that already.
It’s hard for a smoker to get good exercise advice, since everyone wants to tell you the obvious:
“You should quit immediately!”
“Running and smoking don’t mix!”
You’ve heard this all before…
You should definitely quit smoking if you’re interesting in progressing to your full potential as a runner. But this article isn’t going to be about educating you on the obvious about how “each smoke you take is another nail in your coffin” or that “you’ll never be a good runner if you smoke.”
Smoking is bad. But smoking and not getting any physical activity is even worse. You’ve made the choice to improve your life by quitting and/or starting to run on a regular basis. That’s awesome!
Other than Tip #1, the following advice applies both to people who’re currently smokers, and also anyone who’s quit recently and finds it difficult to make the transition to a smoke-free running lifestyle.
Tip #1: Don’t smoke for at least an hour before running (for people who still smoke)
Obviously, if you’ve quit and are making the transition, this one doesn’t apply – pat yourself on the back!
Though long-term smoking can cause a rise in overall blood pressure and heart rate, the immediate effects on these levels are gone 20-30 minutes after you’ve taken your last puff. By waiting at least an hour after smoking before beginning your run, you reduce (not eliminate) the risk of having a heart attack or other complications due to high blood pressure and pulse.
Tip #2: Make a plan
Planning when and how you’ll run will give you a schedule to stick to. This is more general advice than smoker-specific, but everyone needs a plan regardless of their lifestyle.
Runnersworld.co.uk is a great free resource to help you design a well-laid plan for your specific goals.
Tip #3: Do a long warm up
Warm ups are essential for any physical activity, especially if you currently smoke or have smoked in the past. It’s not just your muscles and joints that need to “warm up.”
Smoking is really hard on the cilia in your lungs (the little fibrous hairs that capture oxygen). They become inflamed and covered with tar from smoking. This makes it harder for your lungs to adjust to the increased oxygen demands placed on your body during physical activity, and makes your heart work harder to pump oxygen into your cells too. Coughing fits are also exacerbated as you begin exercising, as phlegm is cleared from your lungs and breathing passageways.
Start out walking and stretching for 5 – 10 minutes, then start to jog slowly after that, gradually working up to your maximum jogging speed over the course of the next 5 minutes (or longer, if needed).
Tip #4: Run in intervals
Just as it takes more time to warm up as a smoker or recent ex-smoker, you may find that your endurance is hindered, gasping for breath not long after you begin your run. MANY people put a halt to their jog when this happens, fearing they’ll suffer a heart attack or stroke, or simply due to being discouraged and/or tired.
This is definitely the wrong approach; thinking “If I can’t run the entire time, what’s the point?” Instead, stop and walk every few minutes, or whenever you need to. Take a breather, and let your oxygen reserves build back up.
Don’t get discouraged, your cardiovascular system will recover remarkably fast. The key is to keep moving. Intervals keep your pulse rate up, so even though you might feel like you’re cheating or being lazy. As long as you keep walking when you can’t jog, you’re still engaging in cardiovascular training – and you will get better with time!
Tip #5: Partner up!
Even if you’re the solitary type who prefers time to yourself, you can still benefit from having a partner to help push you. If you’re a heavy current or former smoker, having someone nearby will help give you the confidence to push yourself and persevere.
Smokers (and ex-smokers) often have a very real fear of doing intense physical activity due to their bad habit and current state of health. While that fear is very real, it’s still always better to get daily exercise than not.
Partnering has the added benefit of someone who expects you to show up for your running session, making it harder to bail on them at the last minute!
It’s your choice to smoke or not to. It’s also your choice to run or not. Don’t let anyone discourage you from running, no matter what your current lifestyle is. Running as few as 7 minutes per day can cut your risk of heart attack in half! (source)